Friday, March 27, 2015

A Rage for Verse: The Case for Charles Walker as the Author of the First Volume of Verse Published in Western Australia (1856)

by John Kinsella

In doing research for the Western Australian Poetry Anthology (Fremantle Press, 2015) that Tracy and I are editing, I have come across some bizarre and quite sad material. John Hay’s 1981 essay ‘Literature and Society’ from A New History of Western Australia (ed. C. T. Stannage, 1981, UWAP, Perth) draws heavily on Beverley Smith’s UWA thesis on early Western Australian writing written in the late 60s, and makes interesting if very brief points of reference worth following up. This is one that interested me in particular because as I have written elsewhere, Henry Clay’s Two and Two: a Story of the Australian Forest by H. E. C., with Minor Poems of Colonial Interest, is often considered the first volume of poetry by a single author published in the colony (Perth, 1873).

Yet as Hay notes, ‘In February [?] 1856, the convict Charles Walker seems to have published a small volume entitled Lyrical Poems, the first book of verse to be published in Perth. No copies are extant.’ (p. 607) One might guess that the claim (not Hay’s claim but asserted in various places) for Clay’s being the first book of its type published in Perth is due to the ‘No copies extant.’ There is no evidence outside newspaper advertisements that Walker’s book existed at all. Naturally, this has got me intrigued, especially as, through drawing on colonial and later sources, I have made the same claim for Clay’s book myself.

So what do we know of Walker? Almost nothing. In the Western Australian newspaper The Inquirer and Commercial News (1855-1901), Walker published almost weekly advertisements from 19th December 1855 through to late March 1856, relating to a work entitled Lyrical Poems. The advertisements up until that of 6th February 1856 are worded

‘Lyrical and Other Poems’, By Charles Walker. Persons requiring a copy will please to forward their wishes to the author, at Mr G Marfleet’s, Perth; which will meet with due attention.’ 

Then they change to this:

‘Just Published LYRICAL POEMS by Charles Walker Copies can be had at the Stores of Mr G. Marfleet, Perth. PRICE — Half-a-crown.’

So, we might assume the book was printed and published, and might we conjecture that it was done through Marfleet’s booksellers? In itself, it’s thin evidence, though it would be strange to pay for advertising so consistently if there was nothing intended and ultimately nothing to show.

But it gets stranger. Searching the newspapers of the period, there is no evidence of Walker publishing poems in them — the usual method of dissemination of the time. Being a colonial poet prior to the boom of ‘Manly poetry’ (as A. G. Stephens, editor of the Bulletin would call the outburst of goldfields versifying that began in the 1890s, starring poets such as ‘Crosscut’, ‘Bluebush’, and ‘Dryblower’) was no easy thing outside whimsical versifying, either praising or mocking (complaining of) colonial life and administration. As Hay quotes Henry Clay writing in his introduction to Immortelles (serialised then published in 1890),

‘The pioneers of local literature in a small community should prepare to encounter special difficulties and a probable harvest of loss. Without assumption, they should have sufficient self-reliance to hold their ground against the saucy badinage of amused spectators and the practical indifference of friends.’ (p. 608)

Or is there perhaps evidence of Walker publishing in the papers? Well, there’s one poem in the same paper where he promoted his book. It’s a poem with a twist — a threat poem, an investigative poem, a sleuthing poem. As a mirror of the convict system that saw him (as we will discover) working under the ‘care’ of Mr G. Marfleet, presumably as a Ticket-of-Leave man. This poem-advertisement is nothing less than a hunting poem. But it carries above it an epigrammatic (separate) advertisement giving his reasons, and what he wants in transparent prose (is the poem transparent in its call?). This is what we read:

WHEREAS a manuscript book, containing about one hundred pages, was taken away from me about eighteen months ago, and, from circumstances which have come to my knowledge, believing it to be in the possession of some person well acquainted with its contents, I hereby offer a reward of Two Pounds for the recovery of the same. CHARLES WALKER. Perth, April 24, 1856.’
WHEREAS a man, some five feet ten,    
(No matter whether Charles or Ben)  
Has took it in his empty head,
The equal empty tale to spread,
That all the dreamings of my muse
Are of the ladies’ charms profuse,
But scarcely ever condescend
His vocal talent to commend;
He wonders why his foolish tales
So little on your mind prevails :
And why the slander he has sown—
I find it has been all his own —
Has never been received as truth,
By any mind of common growth.
This is to let that tall chap know.
That he may find a ‘bar’ or so,
To mar the quiet of his path,
Should he presume to tempt my wrath.
(APA citation — Advertising. (1856, April 30). The Inquirer and Commercial News (Perth, WA: 1855-1901), p. 2. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from

What is plain from this is that either this manuscript is a new work, or maybe it’s the old work and it never actually appeared. Conjecture. Who is to know? Is the offender Mr G. Marfleet, or is even supposing so a smear? A little more evidence comes our way shortly. But in the meantime, the poem itself is telling — clearly his verses (likely of Lyrical Poems given the lack of newspaper and journal evidence of other publication — though some may yet surface) had attracted negative attention. The slighting of his work as effeminate had brought the phallic response — ‘he may find a “bar” or so,/ To mar the quiet of his path.’

There is bitterness and zeal in this poem. I hesitate to call it doggerel because it is too convinced, too passionate, too driven. Its awkward syntax and odd parsing don’t invalidate its desperate anger. Politeness is only formal — this is a poetry wanting to burst out of its constraints. A ‘self-promoter’, that ludicrous accusation pointed at the poet who feels passionate about being heard, about speaking out...? As he accuses, the offender is all bluster and ‘talent’ and no substance because it is ‘he’ that is the fraud. But sadly, Walker undoes it all with the threat — a moment of vulnerability, weakness, and brutality. But really, it’s about his own feeling of inadequacy more than any other, any ‘five feet ten’ swell, be he Charles or Ben or whatever. I think Charles Walker was the most modern of colonial poets.

But our poet sadly didn’t have to pay to promote his work or threaten others for taking his creativity and manuscript away. On the 6th August, 1856 — such a short time later — he is discussed as ‘news’, in the ‘Local and Domestic Intelligence’ columns of the paper. We read, with shock:

A few days since a reconvicted man committed suicide in the establishment by cutting his throat with a razor. His name was Charles Walker, formerly in the employ of Mr Marfleet of this town, from whose service he absconded a few months ago. It was for this offence and for being out of his district without a pass that he was returned to the Establishment for twelve months. While in the employ of Mr Marfleet his general character was good, but his manner was flighty, and there was no doubt a tendency to insanity. He was a somewhat conspicuous character in consequence of his rage for verse making, which found vent in the advertising columns of this journal, and in a small volume entitled ‘Lyrical Poems,’ published some six months since.

The account of this tragedy appears to give us a third-party confirmation of the existence of a book of poetry written by Charles Walker — ‘Lyrical Poems’. It doesn’t confirm the book was printed in Perth, but it would seem likely given Walker’s convict status, and what we might assume were limited means. But then, he could pay for the advertisements, and he did offer a (sizeable) two-pound reward.

Did his book sell well enough at half-a-crown to yield him a windfall? Did being ‘the first’ add a mystique and appeal to the collection or was he crushed by his critics before he began?

The conservatism of reading environments as well as the tendency to self-help (see Hay regarding the later Mechanics Institutes) publications — how to be a more effective settler — probably counted against this convict. John Boyle O’Reilly was said to have scratched poems on prison walls wherever he was incarcerated (see H. Drake-Brockman in The West Australian, 19th July, 1952:

‘Perhaps at Fremantle gaol some poem may still lurk under whitewash. O’Reilly wrote poems with nails on his prison walls in Ireland and England. After his escape, he declared that he would like to revisit old cells and find his scratchings. This never happened.’)

and Henry Clay would battle on against the negative attitudes regardless, but outside newspaper opinion versifying, print-poetry was thin-on if existent at all.

Charles Walker’s ‘rage for verse making’ fits. His self-inflicted death (if that’s actually what it was) and the reference to his employer the bookseller (or storekeeper) who clearly reported him for going AWOL, fit the profile. What became of his missing verses, his published book? Creativity in the colony was impractical in so many ways. My great-great-grandfather was a labourer, a farmer, and later a school teacher — the first full-time schoolteacher in the first Catholic school in the Vasse (Busselton). No doubt he ranged from the practical to the creative — he certainly propelled himself forward and self-taught himself to another ‘level’ of colonial society, no easy thing for a just-post-famine migrant with a huge family. Charles Walker’s poetry was a direct conduit between his inner self and reality as he perceived it. We see that in his one remaining poem, his self-promoting advertising verse-threat.

There’s no biographical data readily available on Charles Walker outside what I’ve presented here. He was a ‘reoffender’. The establishment took him back. Convict Establishment — Fremantle Prison — consumed those used to create it. This self-eating in the new Eden was the paradox of the colonial, but of the State in all its manifestations. It needs what it can destroy. Charles Walker wanted to be heard — was desperate to be heard — and he was punished for it. Was he paranoid, did he carry out his verse threats, was he hard done-by?

There’s a history and embodiment of poetry in this, and none would know this better than the indigenous singers, story-tellers and poets of early colonisation in Western Australia, and what has followed. We have reports of the threats of Yagan and what colonists did to him, but nothing of the poetry of his people, of himself. In Jack Davis: A Life Story (Keith Chesson, Dent, 1988, Melbourne) we read, ‘Yagan had made every effort to bring some sense to the worsening situation. In March 1833 he had arranged corroborees to bring about a cultural exchange with the settlers.’ (p193) Of course, Yagan’s head was cut off and smoked. This is the brutality at the foundation of the Swan River Colony. Convicts were controversially brought into the colony in 1850 (until 1866) and the cruelty and degradation meted out to them are never to be forgotten, and come as a direct extension of the treatment of Yagan and his people. Charles Walker wrote in this ecology, and wrote out of it. Isolated, keen to speak out, he advertised his condition as celebration but with passion. He raged until the very end. We can get this much from what we have.

Without going into the content of the paper the same day Charles Walker published his reward and poem-advertisement, take one item in the same column:

‘POWDER MAGAZINE. PERSONS having Powder deposited in the Magazine at Fremantle are requested, in demanding the same from the Commissariat, to state, — The marks on the package  The size, whether whole, half or quarter barrels  The contents, giving the description as well as the quantity of powder. And no demand will be noticed unless this notice is complied with. The Magazine will be open for the delivery of powder between one and two p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Commissariat, Fremantle, April, 26, 1855.’

This is the material of the frontier.

Whether or not Walker’s poems were over-delicate and fey versifying as we might assume it had been said, he certainly had decided on a verse that was confronting, aggressive and of the place and conditions he was part of. His violent death was of this, too. The poetry and his condition of being, his manifestation within the colonial body-without-organs, within the city of Perth, and the gaol itself, as a form of textual projection. As Derrida gesticulated (waving his arms), ‘Everything is a text; this is a text’... and so we have the first book of Western Australian poetry by a single author. The advertisements, the poem advertisement, the plea and accusation and the mediating figure of the ‘book-seller’, the report of his death... accusations of loss of control to the (illogical?) forces of poetry... this is a full book. It is there for us to read. You don’t judge a book by the number of pages it has, or even by its format. It is text, poetry is text, and it is here with us now. It is the truth of the lyrical urge. It is Lyrical Poems by Charles Walker, 1856.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Further Jam Tree Gully Concretions

By John Kinsella; posted by Tracy

These concretions were carried out some months ago. It was an extremely windy day, which became part of the process — the wind altering the way the text could be ‘secured’ and thus conveyed to a reader, and even to myself as creator and participant.

As installations, they were obviously highly unstable and temporary, but as I have walked their placement points and zones since, the experience of movement is marked by that earlier engagement. There could have been an accompanying sound track — the wind, a variety of birds, my discussing the dynamic with young Tim who followed me around making comments at salient moments... and reading the pieces aloud, or reciting them in my head.

In a place where we’ve been trying to lessen human ‘intervention’, these are reminders of the crossover and conversations of being ‘living things’ that share space (which we do, of course). They also help remind (me at least) that our withdrawal from space is probably a consequence of trying to balance a very over-determined ‘ledger’ (pure metaphor here, no fiscal actuality!) that has resulted in such massive colonial human imposition that flora and fauna struggle to maintain agency.

Though there is noise all about us (machinery, guns...), the reinstatement of flora, and the fauna that arrive searching out this growing refuge, create walls of ‘silence’ around the space from which we view and attempt to comprehend. I am reminded of Gomringer’s ‘silencio’ — wishful thinking or metaphor? In terms of the texts themselves, their ‘shape’ is a reflection of the ‘ambience’ and way one interprets moods of place (a distorted anthropomorphics), and in this they are concrete representations.

But ultimately, they are unmappings of co-ordinates, an unfixing of points on the maps we create to control. The scratchings in the red-brown ‘dust’ of the firebreak work as markers of associations, parodies of ‘logos’ and ownership (Naomi Klein got over her childhood love of labels!). The more we try to fix the picture, the more unstable becomes the language we use to describe it. And the language that is woven into the picture is at the mercy of the wind, of atrophy. What follows is a selection of concretions from around a dozen texts emplaced and photographed in a variety of ways at the time.

Where the north-east ant colony centres itself.

Plato’s Cave is rarely locked and secured. The Red Shed.

Raingauge, witness to the fading green.

On the firebreaks colour is queried. Someone has passed over. Tread. Trod.

Carried by the wind from firebreak (though ‘secured’) to wild oats.

Logo — not! JTG, acronym for...?

Firebreak scratchings poem — Loss Rarity Bird Gully...?

Two of the texts themselves, which exist as poems outside concretion, outside installation. They are different viewed as such:


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Against the executions in Indonesia

Nothing is Made New

for those killed by ‘firing squad’ in the name of justice in Indonesia
and a plea for clemency for those awaiting this fate

Heavy weather over the rainforest
heavy weather over plantations and prisons;
when I think of Nusakambangan
I think of the black egret and mouse deer.

Midnight coats the sea with vitriol —
glass waves shatter with each crack of the air;
when colonial overlords withdrew, the bones
of those they’d crushed made walls for the future.

Prayers for clemency can’t break free,
trapped in the wood of buildings and furniture;
midnight ends one day but doesn’t begin another,
the living are made to suffer their end in sight.

Heavy weather is over the rainforest
heavy weather is over plantations and prisons;
when I think of Nusakambangan
I think of the black egret and mouse deer.

John Kinsella

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Concreted protest poem against bauxite mine at Morangup



These photos are taken outside the office of the mining conglomerate seeking to establish a massive bauxite mine at Morangup, just south of Toodyay. The conglomerate is inculcating itself into the community, as many mining companies do, mixing notions of beneficence and largesse, and suggesting that the local people’s standard of living will rise, without illustrating the long-term costs. The destruction of habitat is not correctable, despite what is all too often claimed, and what is left is an emptied shell of place and space.

The photos here are protest poems. They are words on an A4 page, working as protest slogan and concreted poem. I used this size paper rather than a larger ‘poster size’ format to capture the printed working page, to show the dynamism of the poetry page as space. The text on the page is inseparable from the context in which it is written, within the moment and location of protest, but its message is polyvalent and polysituated.

The idea of the ‘temporary local’ (only here when it suits) that underpins the mining conglomerate, their incursions into local social and business bodies, their making of a politics of extraction into a vanguard-of-benefits modus operandi, is typical of the industry. The proffered wealth attracts the greedy and the needy alike — such companies require both, and the anodyne middle ground who will hold opinions (either way) and do nothing. (I am not demeaning or challenging the needy here. I use the expression 'greedy and needy' in the context of how mining companies perceive their access points to community. Obviously I am using the expression within this 'diegesis'. The expression is glib because of the glib nature of the mining company's take on their potential employees and the communities in which they operate.)

The poem/text in these photos is a prompt to take the discussion out of its niches, to join with many other conversations and protests. I recall once being told my services were not required in a pro-refugee protest because someone already had the ground covered — as if I would be taking their ‘protest air’. When such cadre politics and politics of personality overtake the cause, the cause is damaged. The poem should be about the cause, to my mind, and in this case the minimalism of the text is an attempt to achieve this. Including myself in the photo is a registering of personal protest against the mine in dialogue with the text I created, but also independently of it. It is also assuming responsibility for the views expressed (as is Tracy’s taking of the photos). There are many vectors to any position we take and they all need to come into consideration.

    John Kinsella

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Great Western Woodlands under threat

By John Kinsella

This is something all of us should be resisting -- it will not only devastate large areas of Western Australia's bushland but threaten the entire biosphere. It must be stopped before it begins. I am going to be there in front of the bulldozers -- poetically and literally -- I hope others will join me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Concrete, concretion and installation poetry

Concretion and Damage: a Pre-manifesto (though written after)

John Kinsella

Below this article is a short ‘manifesto’ piece on creating ‘concrete’ texts in ‘natural’ environments or environments in which the ‘natural world’ intervenes, ‘intrudes’, or defines the conditions of viewing. This necessitates a lot of scare quotes because of the problem of mediating the ‘natural’ in the context of human seeing, perception and activity. All human activity is contingent on the ‘natural world’, regardless of how much it attempts to distance itself from the materials and variables of its construction. In the case of the images below, it might entail a spider or some other creature walking over a sheet of paper displaying a poem — the poem/sheet placed on the ground (or elsewhere) in the expectation that something will cross its path, literally. The patience is in waiting to capture the photograph.

The series of poem-texts on sheets of A4 was done near Walwalinj in York between 2005 and 2008. The poems were written and printed and no copy kept (digital or otherwise). They were then photographed ‘in situ’ and the paper recycled. These poems exist somewhere between installations and concretions. Over the last nine or so years I have been accumulating poems that exist as expressions in landscape — accepting landscape is a mediated term in itself, and relates to human presence and intervention with varying levels of impact. Whether printed-paper placed among rocks and scrub, or lines written in charcoal on a concrete path between York gums, or words scratched into a firebreak, none of the creations had more than a temporary presence in the environment outside being captured in photographs. The aim is always minimal impact on the ‘natural’. As we located ourselves mentally (as well as physically) at Jam Tree Gully, as we travelled away and returned, a real sense of concretion developed. The words written on the page, often while looking through a window, typed to shape on a manual typewriter, written in journals, seemed to be one part of a locution of place, an articulation of presence and the politics of this. The aim was to plant (literally trees, but also words) and repair, and to record.

Even ‘healing’ brings its costs, and all impacts generate change and loss. I started forming words on the obligatory firebreaks with sticks, scratching short poems in the gravel driveway with its steep gradient (see my earlier articles on the poetics of gradients). Sometimes I photographed these; mostly I didn’t. And in other places, in other countries, I did the same, recording the concretions in poems: describing activities but with no other record. Walking became a concretion for me, and I stepped the lines across roadways and pathways, through fields and paddocks and along fence-lines, up mountains (literally) and across bodies of water. All of these (from various locations around the world) feed into what is formulating as Jam Tree Gully 4 — a conceptualisation of concretion, a ‘demapping’ (see ‘demapping’ article) of presence that shows the costs of even the lightest impact, and contemplations of alternatives and consequences. They are works of ‘place’, displaced in their presentation.

I have always been interested in handwriting and drawing, and since the mid-90s have been writing ‘graphology’ poems. JTG4 is part of that project, and separate. In absence, as the grass is cut by a family member who helped build our house at Jam Tree Gully, I have been drawing word ‘maps’ of the cutting and tree-growth to ‘be there’. They are mental maps, conceptual maps in lieu of. The absentee reconstruction so when we return I can compare the imagined with the reality, and based on something I’ve done year after year, and bear the calluses on my hands to inform the cartography. But these are ‘de-maps’ because even absent-presence comes at a cost, and the polysituated self absorbs so much — a consciousness that giving back, sharing, and restoring even when away has to be built into the texts.

Which brings to mind someone else's recent project of connecting with place in Wales where a poem was painted onto rock faces in the Snowdonia National Park, intended to be temporary, to be washed away by the rains, but ended up being baked by a warmer than expected September and proving indelible. There are a number of issues here. One is the desire to mark place beyond the moment, which is problematical. But even more so is to miss the fact that climate change will necessarily alter conditions of interaction and presentation. So many of these things are ill-thought-out — a nice notion, but no depth in understanding of causality. So much ‘eco-art’, intended to be of a place and meld with it, merge with it, do no damage, leaves a permanent mark. I recall river installations made from ‘local materials’ that damaged microenvironments then floated down into the sea to join the suspended wastes that are changing the biosphere. The artist’s desire to leave a mark is understandable, but ephemerality has its worth in such contexts. Speaking words that won’t be heard, scratching words in sand that will blow over in a day... there are millennia of such acts. They are more durable than felled trees and carved rock (damaged or ‘used’ in the name of art and knowledge) in so many ways. They enter language and ritual, they inform our movements and day-to-day activities in ways we are rarely aware of.

But I am talking about a form of the concrete. A dissolvable, non-toxic concrete. That’s thinking about materials used and where they are from, what will happen to them afterwards, the ink used, the electricity used, the manufacturing implications — everything. In a global-capitalist world that is consuming itself, that glorifies the soldier in war but not the janitor who cleans up the body wastes of Ebola victims, we need to recognise the art of the moment, the poetry that is survival without damage. We don’t need to write out words in places revered for their natural beauty, but we can speak them there and even hold up a sheet of paper with those words, backdropped by the sublime or whatever you want to call it. The marks must be temporary because any more than that and the place will be changed irrevocably. And that it was altered in such ways in the past doesn’t mean we need to continue doing so. All borders are artifices. How we connect to a place is informed by so many variables. We don’t need to mark our connection by undoing the stone of it, itself.

The creation of a text in a natural environment, a concretion, brings into question how close you are/were to the event. I suggest that those performing an act of damage probably have it subliminally or overtly ‘written into’ their poetic language. And in their practice overall. These things are highlighted or hidden depending on how conveniently we can distance ourselves from the impacts we make, the damage we do. In poems of place we inevitably implant ‘locators’ — ‘co-ordinates’/spatial reference-points (tree, rock, mountains) that relate to the terrain of the place out of which the language comes. Without those topographical reference-points, sense of place is lost. Or is it? One could create simulacra in a poem on the page that seemingly have nothing to do with the place they refer to...?

This applies to one of the tenets of polysituatedness (see earlier article) and its larger set, international regionalism. The influx of many other geographical and topographic knowledges doesn’t undermine the fact that any place will have long-associated presence/experience and (spiritual) connectedness that has generated a specific language of that place, that loses something (or something is changed) in its being translocated or invested with new presence. The globalisation of economies (that is, imposing a mode of trade and finance centred on major economic power clusters but consuming and smothering smaller and less robust communities in the process) is vanguard military-capitalist self-empowerment, which is about ensuring that all the conduits feed the wealth of the few. Constructing a shop that sells mobile phones in place of a stand of trees, one might very well lessen communication rather than extend or ‘create’ it. It’s not about egalitarianism or caring, but about wealth-accumulation and control. To go into an impoverished space and create texts in the physical materials of that place (human-made or ‘natural’), without a personal connectedness with that place, is clearly exploitative on many levels; but it might be generative if, say, it brings awareness of issues that leads to self-empowerment. That would be a thread of polysituatedness that is conscious and self-critiquing. Does the end justify the means? That depends...

Poems implanted into the natural world are always about intrusion. They alter the co-ordinates of the ‘poetry’/poetics that pre-exist their intrusion. And there’s always a poetry (‘constructed’ and utilised in various forms and manifestations by people, animals, birds, plants...). To leave your mark is to occlude other marks, equally and maybe more necessary (codes to survival and understanding). If we start from that knowledge, then we can lessen the negative impact and increase the generative (awareness, different ways of seeing, respect). Also, we need to stop thinking of ‘poetry’, or rather the gestural substance of poetry, as a purely human activity. What we might call a ‘found’ poem or ‘artwork’ in nature (from a flower through to a burnt stump in the shape of something we think we recognise), is also nature in-itself.

Listening to a rare bird recently, I was conscious of taking its song for my purposes. It is its song. It’s not an installation. It’s not my poem (though I will make it mine, then altruistically share with other humans), but it might well be the bird’s poem. It’s not a concretion. But it might be something akin, something similar. It’s not all utility, I am sure. When placing a poem in the natural world, we could think of it as collaboration... with nature? But what is the ‘other’ getting out of it, rather than yourself and your audience (people)?

Literal concrete... was already there -- added charcoal
Literal concrete again... charcoal washed off after a week
Paper was recycled afterwards
Stick-writing on firebreak at JTG
Weighted down in high wind
Christmas spider came along of its own accord, after I placed the poem between 2 trees!
Another Graphology in a different form
One of many gravel concretions that change shape over days

Demapping — Jam Tree Gully 4 Concretions Manifesto 1

Jam Tree Gully 4 is a visual accretion of concrete poetry/visual poetry material, sound files and other materials from the last decade of creating artworks 'in situ' — that is, at the place of conception and awareness. In essence, Jam Tree Gully 4 can only come into being in a public space — I see this 'book' as a curated art space rather than the conventional printed page (though a catalogue would work well to accompany the installed materials).

The map poems are part of a 'concrete' line of work that I have been investigating for many years. They include poems written and printed (and then deleted from the electronic 'record' - these large-font printed poems only exist in this form), poems photographed 'in terrain'/in-situ (including rocks, clay, even ants 'randomly' walking across them) at my mother's place below Walwalinj (Mount Bakewell) in York, Western Australia; literal maps of Australia with text inserted, and poems created from text that 'map' a place - i.e. the words working as figurative and representative acts - standing for, and spatially in relation to, the place itself. I have also included images of texts scraped into the dirt and word poems ('graphology') made from sticks laid out on a firebreak at our place (Jam Tree Gully in the Western Australian wheatbelt). I have worked on concretions in the southwest of the Republic of Ireland which will become an extension of the Jam Tree Gully scenario — an ironic 'annexe' to the place of 'home'.

I am particularly interested in materiality of 'presentation' — the 'etho'/'ethical'-politics of deploying waste materials; of using, say, charcoal taken from a bushfire that went through the zone years before, of writing on concrete scribbled out on rough ground as a track when the rains (eventually!) come, the yellow sand brought in from elsewhere to break up soil for a vegetable garden or laying a driveway. Equally important is a respect for the intactness of rocks and eucalypts, the passing insects and animals — these are 'caught' in photographs and in textual imaging, but left unhindered in their place of origin.

This all fits into a politics of what I term 'demapping' colonised spaces and looking to different ways of configuring space outside of survey (indigenous Australians have numerous traditional and post-traditional methods — verbal and visual). When I say 'etho-political' I am playing on ethical, ethos, ecological and so on. In creating 'spatial poems' in which I 'map' our place at Jam Tree Gully, I enact ‘return’ as well as retrieval: this is stolen land which cannot be ‘owned’, and by acknowledging that the colonising language is overlay, I also acknowledge other languages exist/pre-exist as well, and are indeed primary. I do not use strings of indigenous words in order not to appropriate. The act of concretion is a recognition of the totemic, of the indigenous, and of the fact that I cannot lay claim to the material, spiritual, or conceptual co-ordinates of this space. But I can witness, observe, and ‘present’ (not ‘represent’).

So the 'mapping' poems become a process (even 'methodology') of/for breaking away from the constraints of mapping for control, occupation, dispossession and other power-ploys. The map defies its own purpose, its own subservience to 'usage'.

Jam Tree Gully 4 is curated space. A curator 'spatialises' it within the conceptual (and real) gallery. In essence, it is an exhibition of the creation of ‘the book’ in curatorial space.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Imminent loss of liberties in Australia

Delicate Balance

‘The delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift.’

— Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister

on edge,
the fall.

of return
as security.

with its effect
torn off —

as brutal
as the cruel
child, bitter

Sets the gallery’s
seismographs off
before walls
even move, art
stable as iron

with self-styled
head, done
in coal.

Doesn’t require
with other
titular heads:

needs no precedent,
is its own pedestal.

Your signature,
elusive and solid
as its digital record.

You’ve created
a placebo,

together we can
keep an eye on
each other,

push the shift

John Kinsella